Friday, 2 May 2014

When I Was Mongolian (Flashback Friday)

You may not be aware that I was, once and many years ago, Mongolian. It was just for a couple of hours in the mountains of... Gifu? Possibly Aichi or Mie but probably Gifu. See? I had a hat and everything.

I have been trying to impress on my international students the difference between gaikoku in Japanese and any translation into English. "Foreign countries" or "abroad" just don't carry the same connotations. The time I was Mongolian is a good example of the difference, I think.

A small village in remote mountains wanted to invite some foreigners to attend a festival and liven things up, so the community leaders very kindly paid for a bunch of international students (myself included) to travel into the mountains, stay at a ryokan, have a big beery party/karaoke night with them, then attend the festival the next day. There had to be some sort of purpose beyond just attending while foreign, so the solution hit upon was that we would run a Mongolian booth, selling Mongolian cookies while wearing the kind of things you can see in the picture. Our little band included Australian, American, Chinese, Korean and French students... but no one from Mongolia. At the end of the day, though, we were all gaikokujin from the gaikoku, and Mongolia is in the gaikoku, so it totally made sense. Apart from the deep awkwardness of dressing up as a nationality, the situation became even more confused when well meaning villagers asked us to teach them Mongolian words and phrases.

It was actually a lot of fun and I have fond memories of the kindness of the village leaders ("you're vegetarian and can't eat any of this food? Let's order more beer for you!"), but it remains one of the weirder things I've been asked to do.

For more articulate musings on "the gaikoku", click here and visit This Japanese Life.
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